Banking: the future’s biometric

UK customers of HSBC can now use their voices and fingerprints to access accounts in a move that signposts another nail in the coffin for traditional authentication processes including passwords. The bank and its online subsidiary First Direct have announced that they are rolling out the technology to 15m customers by this summer in another vote of confidence for biometric ID technology.

The technology will be extended before the end of this year to HSBC customers in North America, Hong Kong, Mexico and France, with further markets due to follow in 2017 and 2018.

“Voice biometric security has been with us for a few years now, and while experts claim that it’s the future of security, the reality is that the uptake has been relatively slow to date,” says Martin Hummel, voice biometrics consultant at IT managed services group Soitron UK.

“However, it has the potential to replace the password or personal identification number (PIN)-based identity verification, which we all acknowledge is antiquated and has many failings from both the business and consumer perspectives.”

HSBC follows in the footsteps of other banks that have taken steps in this direction. Barclays introduced voice recognition for 300,000 of its wealthiest UK customers back in 2013, while Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) launched fingerprint ID earlier this month. Other users of voice biometrics include Slovakia’s Tatra Bank, where it launched in 2013 and is used by one in three customers.

Making memorising PINs and passwords a thing of the past, customers opting into the service will instead create a ‘voice print’, which will be created by US multinational software technology group Nuance Communications.

Early days

HSBC’s move comes three weeks after the bank was hit by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, highlighting the growing pressure on the industry to shore up their mobile and online platforms from security breaches as customers shift to digital.

According to a survey issued last month by research firm One Poll, nearly one in five UK bank customers would like to abandon their passwords and replace them with biometric alternatives like voice recognition. Last summer a poll of 2,000 UK consumers by software company Intelligent Environments suggested even more widespread support; as many as 79% said they were ready to replace passwords with biometric security, with 52% favouring fingerprint scanners and 33% iris scanners.

“Deployment of biometric technologies in Britain banking is still in its infancy, but will become commonplace,” says Anthony Duffy, Fujitsu’s director of retail banking in the UK and Ireland. “Customers will become increasingly familiar with it as it enters other parts of their lives.

“The emergence of mobile phones which are locked and unlocked using a fingerprint has made this easy-to-use technology familiar to a new mass market. Banks recognise that maintaining customer confidence in their industry, systems and products is more important than ever.” Fujitsu itself provides palm vein identification to financial services in Brazil, Japan and Turkey.

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